Mrs Hudson’s Top Ten Freebies

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know about Heritage Open Days?  Four days of opportunity to get peek at historic buildings in your local area with lots of activities, visits, tours and places to visit for free.  Visit buildings that are never open and satisfy your curiosity from 8 to 11 September this year, except in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where the dates are different.  I think the whole movement to get people into heritage is inspiring so I’ve picked 10 to get you excited!

Gothic Temple, Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckingham


The Gothic Temple is one of several buildings owned by The Landmark Trust which are open for visitors.  Normally you have to stay overnight, so this is a great opportunity to check out this most delightful garden building, the last to be added to the landscaped gardens at Stowe by Whig grandee, Lord Cobham in 1741.  The architect, James Gibbs, made all the rooms circular and it has wonderful detailing in the moulded stone pilasters  and plasterwork on the vaulted ceilings.  The central vault is gorgeously decorated with heraldic mosaics. Open Sat 10 Sept,  10.30 – 6pm.

Rockbeare Manor, Exeter

Rockbeare Manor

A large elegant Regency mansion built for the Duntze family, prosperous Exeter merchants in the 1820s.  Now let as a wedding venue, HOD offers a great chance to explore the house, especially its well proportioned dining room and ballroom, to picnic in the 18th century landscaped gardens or to play garden games on the 19th century terraces that frame the house.  Open Sun 11 Sept, 12 – 4pm.

Ashton Gatehouse, Bristol


Another regency gem, Ashton Gatehouse was the entrance to the Smyth family home at Ashton Court, built in the fashionable gothic style in 1805.  The restoration project here is almost complete so it’s a good time to don a hard hat and find out what has been achieved in restoring this pretty building for the community.  Open Sun 11 Sept,  10 – 4pm, book ahead.

Ely Cathedral, Ely


One of the most spectacular medieval buildings in Europe, Ely was once one of the richest cathedral churches in England.  Founded by Etheldreda, one of the most influential women of the early Saxon church, the earliest parts of present building date from 1083.  Find out more over the HOD weekend.  Guided Tours:  Sun 11 Sept, 2 – 3pm, book ahead.



King Charles Tower, Chester

A neat little medieval tower set into the old walls of Chester.  It was here that the powerful town guilds met through the Middle Ages and here that Charles I surveyed the battlefield of Rowton Heath in 1645.  He will have seen the disastrous defeat of the royalist cavalry by the Parliamentary army which led him to abandon Chester, then the last port in royalist hands.  Open Sat 10 & Sun 11 Sept, 10 – 5pm.


Hartlebury Castle, Kidderminster

Hartlebury Castle, the saloon

The palace of the Bishops of Worcester boasts elegant state rooms and the Hurd Library, a rare surviving example of an 18th century scholar bishop’s library of more than 4,500 books.  Join a guided tour of the palace for HOD and get a sneak preview of the newly restored building before it opens to the public officially in 2017.  Sat 10 Sept,  12 – 3pm.

Old Durham Gardens, Durham

OldDurham Gardens

Less than a mile from the city centre is a 17th & 18th century terraced garden laid out around a manor house which was demolished in the 1770s.  A Friends group is restoring the gardens including the walled garden, orchards and a charming gazebo.  Open Sat 10 & Sun 11 Sept, 10 – 4pm, music in the gardens on Sun, 1- 4pm.

Details of all of the above at

Hadfordnos Hall, Conwy


Wales isn’t part of HOD but is having lots of events throughout September and a few openings.  I’m dying to see the restoration at Hafodnos Hall, the valiant rescue of an important Gothic Revival house of the 1860s designed by George Gilbert Scott.  The history of the fire damaged house suggests a charming tale of poetry, sculpture and love.  Open Sun 3 Sept, 2 – 5pm.

The House of Dun, Angus


The equivalent festival in Scotland gives you free entry on specific weekends all through September.  I’ll be heading to The House of Dun where the National Trust for Scotland archaeology volunteers have just unearthed the foundations of an early castle just to the West of the house next to the Erskine family graveyard.  Open Sat 3 & Sun 4 Sept, 12 – 4pm. 

Milford House Collection


Milford House, Armagh

Here’s an oddity.  Milford House is ruinous but an enthusiastic Preservation Trust is determined to rescue it.  For the time being they are showing the contents of the house in an adjacent townhouse and you can enjoy a rather entertaining costumed tour on Sat 10 & Sun 11 Sept, book ahead.


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